Digitization continues to spread in logistics, but a fledgling portal to look for charter capacity and rates is meeting with stiff reservations from charter brokers.
London-based startup CharterSync is trying to shake up the process of finding suitable freighters for time-critical charter missions. Founded by two pilots, it is meant to speed up the process with technology that matches cargo loads to the most suitable plane in real time.
According to the company, its system combines state-of-the art aircraft tracking technology with sophisticated aircraft performance algorithms to identify suitable planes within minutes and provide unparalleled visibility in the time-critical charter market.
The platform is designed for shipments up to 18 tonnes for flights within Europe. The system automatically tracks the locations of the planes of all carriers that are registered with it to identify possible matches with requests from freight forwarders who are looking for a quote. It offers multiple choices, including alternative airports close to origin and destination of the requested move.
Having identified suitable aircraft, the system contacts the respective carriers to confirm availability of their planes and then sends live quotes to the forwarder on his personalized dashboard.
In addition, weather and mapping integrations alert forwarders with critical updates on developments that could cause disruption to their planned charter.
CharterSync claims that it is faster than charter brokers, who have to check with multiple carriers for aircraft availability and prices.
However, brokers are doubtful about the viability and possible scope of the new venture.
“I don’t see huge potential for this,” said Andy James, group marketing manager of Chapman Freeborn.
“We’re also active in the passenger charter market and there must have been 50 plus attempts to create an Uber-type platform – but the reality is chartering an aircraft isn’t like booking a taxi. Almost all of these ventures fall flat and end up reverting to having teams of professionals to fix the enquiries. Moving cargo by charter is even more complex than passenger – and in recent years it’s probably got harder rather than easier,” he reflected, pointing to added layers of complexity like compliance screening and financing.
He thinks the concept may work for basic charter flights from A to B, but pointed out that “typically charters have more moving parts,” from customs requirements and loading requirements to trade sanctions, temperature controls, airport hours and handling equipment.
Mike Hill, director group freight of Air Partner, is also sceptical.
“If you have a passenger charter for, say, 15 passengers to Spain, it’s all planes with a 15-seat capacity. With freight there are so many factors – door sizes, volumes, load and balance. Everything is ‘subject to...’ There’s a whole list of potential issues,” he pointed out.
He also questioned the scope of carriers in the system. “You’d have to have an agreement from all operators to publish their availability and rates,” he remarked, adding that combination carriers do not have freighters allocated purely to charter but juggle with their network operations.
Passenger charters may be easier to manage and digitize than cargo charters, but even the passenger side has been tough for online portals, according to James.
“Many of the passenger platforms have had strong venture capital backing, but all have struggled to turn a profit in a low margin business. Some of the biggest ones fell flat and have now been swallowed up or basically reverted to hiring lots of brokers and keeping the app purely to generate the initial enquiries which are then worked manually,” he said.
CharterSync claims to have got off to a strong start, though. It announced that it completed 16 charters in its first week, with aircraft booked ranging from a Cessna to the Antonov An-12, which can take 18 tonnes.
By Ian Putzger
Air Freight Correspondent | Toronto